Roseburg Forest Products and the City of Weed favor different solutions to issues arising from the June 2016 sunset of a lease that provides Weed with 2 cfs of water as part of its municipal supply.
Roseburg Forest Products representatives criticized the city of Weed during Thursday’s City Council meeting for recent actions in an unresolved water issue between the two entities.
At stake is the two cubic feet per second (2 cfs) of water the Weed community has been using from the Beaughan Springs for more than one hundred years, currently in accordance with the terms of a 50 year lease with Roseburg that expires in June 2016.
Roseburg’s Director of Environmental Affairs Ellen Porter alleged that city officials “have been making inaccurate statements concerning Roseburg and our water rights.” She told the council her company has been voicing its concern about the lease expiration since 1996.
Porter told the council the city’s responses to Roseburg’s offers had been “counterproductive and unbecoming of our public servants,” as well as “intended to create a hostile climate.”
Roseburg’s California Resource Manager Arne Hultgren told the council he was “stunned and disappointed” at the tone set by what he described as “the city exploring the seizure of our company’s rightful assets.”
Weed City Manager Ron Stock said in an email that the city intends neither to steal the water rights nor to treat Roseburg unfairly.
“We fully expect to pay the full market value for their transfer to the City of Weed,” Stock stated.
The city has informed Roseburg that the 2 cfs of water it has been receiving from Little Beaughan Spring may be “suitable for public use,” Stock stated in his email.
He explained in an interview that a 1932 Shasta River Adjudication entitled Long Bell Lumber to divert 2.90 cfs from Beaughan Springs and 1.0 cfs from Little Beaughan Springs to be used for “domestic and municipal purposes within the town of Weed” as well as for Long Bell industrial purposes and for land irrigation.
Stock said that because Weed began as a “company town,” title to the water apparently passed to Roseburg Forest Products when that company succeeded International Paper and the Weed Lumber Company.
“The only feasible way in which we can be assured that these water rights remain the principal water source for this community for the next 100 years is for those water rights to be transferred from Roseburg to the city,” Stock stated, adding that the city has been so far unsuccessful in negotiating the purchase after three years of effort.
Stock confirmed in an email that a “reputable expert” has been engaged to appraise the fair market value of the water rights and that the city will take the “reasonable and legal steps necessary to assure that these water rights continue to be the principal water source for this community for the foreseeable future.”
He said the city would appraise the property for purpose of acquisition “and continue to hold ourselves open to negotiation.”
Roseburg attorney Barbara Brenner noted in an interview that the ways in which water is allowed to be used has “nothing to do with who owns the water.”
“The holder of water rights has the choice to put its water to any of those uses. None are mandated,” she explained.
Brenner said Roseburg Forest Products is involved in litigation to determine its water rights.
“Any discussion has to take into consideration the pending lawsuit and how much water we have,” she said.
The company filed a lawsuit against the Scott Valley and Shasta Valley Watermaster District in August 2014, naming J.H. Baxter & Co. as a co-defendant.
Roseburg asserts in the writ that the SSWD “illegally and impermissibly” reapportioned 0.892 cfs of the company’s Beaughan Springs water rights to Baxter.
“We don’t know how much water we have,” Brenner stated, adding that “in a drought situation there is a significant curtailment of supply.”
The company’s Beaughan Spring water flow has dropped 25 percent, according to Hultgren, forcing Roseburg to adjust its consumption.
He said in an interview that “this water is extremely necessary to our operation of the mill.”
Porter added in the interview that the company has a business interest in the water as well.
“We are contractually obligated for a minor portion of that water to Crystal Geyser Roxanne,” she reported.
Roseburg/Ford Family Foundation contributions
Hultgren told the council said he found the “initial step toward eminent domain proceedings” troubling due to the contributions Roseburg has made to the Weed community and the “cooperative history between us.”
He called it “especially insulting” in light of Roseburg having been a “model corporate citizen and vital member of the Weed community.”
Hultgren listed major donations Roseburg has provided to the city, Siskiyou County students, and College of the Siskiyous, and said the company is “the largest employer in the city – the source of 187 jobs, tax revenue and salaries” that provide local support.
In an interview, he clarified that Roseburg is the largest private employer.
“A lot of businesses indirectly benefit from Roseburg’s presence in Weed,” Porter added.
Although Siskiyou County collects Roseburg Forest Products taxes, Hultgren said, “the city of Weed gets Transient Occupancy Tax and sales taxes from our employees.”
He added that, of the 75 Roseburg employees who live within the Weed zip code, some live within the incorporated limits and pay their taxes to the city.
Wells, springs, lease
Porter told the council that Roseburg “has identified and brought to the table several possible solutions” to an adequate and affordable supply of water for Weed.
In a letter dated March 12, 2012 and made available to the public at the Weed City Council meeting, Porter indicated Roseburg would share the cost of a well that would replace half the amount of water currently leased to the city as long as the city waived “any claim of rights to Beaughan Spring via lease agreement or otherwise.”
Stock said in an interview that “although wells sound like the perfect answer, they’re not,” due to their being “hit or miss” in the Weed area for a sufficient supply of quality water.
Porter told the city council Thursday that Roseburg’s offers have included the provision of land free of charge on which Weed could develop its own spring.
Stock said the city had engaged in preliminary discussions as to whether the spring in question could be developed. He cited potential difficulties in obtaining water rights and both the financial and environmental costs of having to pump the water from the spring “hundreds of feet” up to the water tanks.
Roseburg also offered to “conditionally extend the lease of the spring water,” according to Porter’s report to the city council.
Hultgren clarified in an interview that discussions were to “renegotiate the lease agreement,” including rates for water and a lease timeline.
He supported the claim Porter made to the city council that the city had responded by “walking out of negotiating meetings,” citing as an example a lease renegotiation meeting between himself and Stock.
Hultgren said Stock “declined to complete the discussion” and left the meeting.
“We were renegotiating a lease,” Stock responded. “Arne had made a proposal, I had responded to it, and we were trying to ‘close the gap’ when Roseburg pulled the rug out from under him. They pulled his last offer off the table. That ended negotiations as far as the city was concerned.”
A way forward?
Porter told the council Roseburg feels it would be “worthwhile” to engage a mediator or facilitator to help the parties resolve the matter.
“We’re treating Ellen Porters presentation as a positive one – the city is working on a letter to accept her agreement to structured negotiation,” Stock said.